Today's newspapers are full of speculation about David Cameron's possible past use of illegal drugs and what revelations might appear in Sunday's press. On the whole the papers are sympathetic to Mr Cameron. You can get access to some of the stories from this site's homepage.
One news feature you can't access from that homepage is the most important one. In today's Mail (not available online) Mr Cameron sets out his "attitude towards drugs". The Cameron campaign kindly rang me last night and said that the Mail article would help to answer the policy questions that have been raised on this site. I've just fetched the newspaper from Smiths and the article is reassuring but doesn't go far enough.
Mr Cameron begins the article by saying that he has said all he intends to say about whether or not he has used drugs in the past. Fair enough. Instead, he uses the article to counter what he describes as the "suspicion" that he has a "tolerant attitude towards drugs". "Nothing could be further from the truth," he writes: "Whoever you are, wherever you live, drugs wreck lives. And they wreck the lives not just of those who use drugs, but the lives of their families and the lives of the many people who are victims of drug-related crime."
So what does Mr Cameron say he'll do about the "terrible scourge of drugs in our country"?
He suggests two priorities:
- "Proper education about drugs". He describes sitting in the back of a classroom where the "sordid reality of drugs" was described to pupils. More first-hand exposure to what drugs do to real people will, he hopes, discourage impressionable children from believing that drugs are in any way cool: "The Government's current drugs education campaign sends mixed messages with too much emphasis on reducing the harm from drugs and not enough on reducing the use of drugs."
- "Treatment and rehabilitation". David Cameron cites good models of rehabilitation in Sweden, Holland and the USA. He writes that it is a "scandal and a disgrace" (two words designed to satisfy the Daily Mail's appetite for outrage) that "intensive residential rehab" is so scarce in Britain: "We have to make it available for each and every young addict. Indeed, we have to make it compulsory for each and every young addict. That is both tough and compassionate."
So far, so good, but the article fails to address two important questions...
Mr Cameron does not say anything about cannabis. At the last election the Tories said Labour had been wrong to downgrade the legal status of cannabis - a decision (unfortunately) supported by Mr Cameron when he was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee. All Mr Cameron will say now (and not in the Mail article) is that he wants the class of drug assigned to cannabis to be "credible". The Telegraph went further yesterday by suggesting that Mr Cameron "rejects a tough line on cannabis". All this risks sending the "mixed messages" that DC criticises Labour for sending. There is a real danger that - with Labour likely to toughen its stance on cannabis - the Tories are about to elect a leader that could be painted as soft on drugs (as The Sun rightly did to the LibDems at the last election).
Neither does Mr Cameron use his Mail article to renounce the views that he held when on the Home Affairs Committee. Then he appeared to favour the condom compassion of 'harm reduction'. Harm reduction is the drug establishment's equivalent of the welfare establishment's benefits empire. Harm reduction schemes like methadone prescriptions and needle exchanges maintain people as addicts in the same way that an undemanding benefits system maintains people in non-work. The humanising approach is to get people off benefits or off drugs and into work and citizenship. I was on Radio Five Live last night and a leading representative of the drug establishment's harm reduction approach was enthusiastically singing Mr Cameron's praises. That makes me worried.
None of my concerns mean that I oppose Mr Cameron as the next Tory leader. I expect him to succeed Michael Howard and I may vote for him myself. But, but, but... This vital issue of drugs policy is his achilles heel.